Can You Say HOPE?
Rev. Jane Page
January 25, 2009
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
In 1968 Alexander Dubcek attempted to take his country of Czechoslovakia out of the orbit of the Soviet Union which resulted in the "Prague Spring" of that year when Soviet tanks crushed his government. He was put in rural exile on a farm. Twenty-one years later when the Soviet occupation ended, he was brought back in triumph to Prague and was asked how he survived all those years in isolation. His reply was "Hope Dies Last" which is the title of his autobiography.
Hope dies last. This brought to mind the old Greek myth of Pandora’s box. Actually it was JAR and mistranslated as box by Erasmus in his retelling of the story. In any case, you may remember that this myth was used to explain all the evil in the world. And just as Eve’s curiosity was blamed in the old Jewish myth, Pandora (Greek mythology’s first woman) had been given the same curiosity by the Greek gods and opened the forbidden jar releasing all sorts of bad plagues and evil possibilities into the world. She put the lid back on in a hurry – but only HOPE was left in the jar.
That does seem to be when we notice hope, isn’t it. Hope only seems to capture our attention when things get really bad.
I’m sharing with you about Hope today because we’ve recently witnessed a political transformation with the election of Barack Obama, one whose advocacy of hope lifted him to the high office of President of the United States. And with his recent inauguration, we saw hope revealed on an unending sea of faces on the Washington mall, in countless places around the globe, and in our own living rooms. What is this power, this emotion, this thing we call hope?
There is so much information on hope, yet it’s conflicting. There is no clear agreement about hope and what it represents. Perhaps HOPE is like pornography. Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Potter Stewart shared in 1964 that he could never succeed in intelligibly defining pornography, but he said, “I know it when I see it.”
As to hope – I know it when I experience it!
Carol Farran, a nursing professor whose research specialization includes caretakers for those with Alzheimer's disease, says that:
Hope constitutes an essential experience of the human condition. It functions as a way of feeling, a way of thinking, a way of behaving, and a way of relating to oneself and one’s world.
She identified four “central attributes” of hope. I’m sharing these with you because I think they will help us to frame our own thoughts around this complex term.
The first attribute is the experiential process or the pain of hope, the2nd is a spiritual or transcendent process or the soul of hope, the third is a rational thought process or the mind of hope, and the forth is a relational process or the heart of hope.
Hope’s pain, Hope’s soul, Hope’s mind, and Hope’s heart.
Those four ideas kept coming back to me as I continued to read and talk with others about hope.
Hope’s pain was in full evidence in this book of writings by Bishop Desmond Tutu. The book was first published in 1983 and republished in 1984 after Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bishop Tutu intertwines Hope with Suffering throughout his writings because, in his efforts and others, they did seem to go hand in hand. Those who dared hope for change often suffered greatly, many being imprisoned and exiled from their homeland. And to others who were suffering the most, Bishop Tutu used his and their religious faith to generate the hope to hang on.
As we celebrated the King holiday and the Obama inauguration, we were often reminded that many had suffered while they dreamed and because of their dreams. Yet hope remained.
There is another kind of suffering that accompanies hope, and that is when our hopes are dashed, when we realize that the goals we had hoped for will not be met. We hope that there is some cure for a disease that we have, yet find there is none. We hope that a sick loved one will live, yet they die. We hope that our marriage will last forever, and it fails.
As the poet French poet Gillaume Appolairne wrote in his poem about lost love:
Love flows away
But oh how slow life goes
How violent is hope
Love only knows
Love flows away
But oh how slow life goes
How violent is hope
Love only knows
With each hope denied, we suffer. Some even say that the HOPE in Pandora’s box was put there as a punishment by the gods to frustrate humanity. Yet most choose to hope again, with different goals; perhaps more realistic than before. And we choose to hope knowing that we risk pain and suffering from possible disappointment. But the gains must be greater or either we are fools – because we continue to have hope.
The 2nd attribute is Hope’s soul – the spirit of hope.
This is the attribute that Emily Dickinson seems to speak of in her poem entitled HOPE.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
Many theologians write of hope as a spiritual gift of God. In Corinthians, chapter 13, Paul identifies Hope, along with Faith and Love, as one of three theological virtues or spiritual gifts. Thomas Aquinas compared these three virtues with his cardinal or moral virtues of temperance, justice, prudence and fortitude. But his virtues were human virtues. Aquinas considered Paul’s faith, hope, and love as supernatural virtues.
In Aquinas’ writings, hope’s object is twofold: first, the future good that one desires and, second, the help by which one expects to attain it. As one would expect, God is the object of hope in Aquinas’ philosophy. (Halpin)
This attribute of hope is closely tied to one’s belief and faith. It’s the hope referred to by Rev. Jim Wallis, the Christian activist of the Sojourners community: He says that: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.”
And some of you respond to hope as a spiritual or transcendent presence. Listen to these two quotes from my survey of members of this congregation and the congregation in Valdosta.
“If we keep the faith and remain positive, and centered in our "God-self", then we grow and things do improve…. Happiness is an inside job. Once you realize that, hope remains constant.”
“At present, I believe in a guiding energy that connects all things on Earth & beyond. I feel that I can connect & be very much in tune with this energy so that it can truly guide me to make the best decisions I can. This gives me a tremendous amount of hope.”
Certainly this is the attribute of Hope lifted up by many liberation theologians and by preachers who led the Civil Rights Movement. It’s more than a rational expectation. And the results of hope are spiritual transformation – indeed, for some, salvation itself.
The 3rd attribute is Hope’s mind. Yeah, rational thought processes – I can get that! Like some of you, I tend to lean toward the rational, which sometimes makes ministry difficult – because a lot of what I deal with doesn’t always require some rational response. In fact, sometimes my thinking gets in the way of my ministry. But I’m working on that. Nevertheless, this aspect of hope seems more hopeful, more attainable for many of us.
This is the attribute explored by C.Rick Snyder, author of many books and the editor for 12 years of The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. The subtitle of his book The Psychology of Hope is “You Can Get Here from There.” Here’s a quote from chapter one which reveals his focus on hope.
Historically speaking, hope is rather hopeless for those who assume it totally lasks a realistic basis. But suppose hope is tied to something realistic. As Samuel Coleridge, in his Work Without Hope, put it, “Hope without an object cannot live.” This simple idea – anchoring hope to a concrete goal – provided a starting point in my model of hope. IN this venture, I join recent social scientists who suggest that hope involves the perception that one’s goals can be met. It is how we think about reaching those goals that provides the key to understanding hope…. Neither a goal you have no chance of obtaining nor one you are absolutely certain of meeting is part of hope as I am defining it.
Not surprisingly, Snyder uses an equation to define hope. He says that “Hope is the sum of the mental willpower and waypower that you have for your goals.” He further defines willpower “as a reservoir of determination and commitment that we can call on to help move us in the direction of the goal.” It’s made up of thoughts like Obama’s YES WE CAN. Now our ability to produce this mental willfulness is base in part, on a previous history of successfully activating our mind and body in the pursuit of goals. But having willpower is not enough. This is added, according to Snyder to “waypower.” He says that “waypower reflects the mental plans or road maps that guide hopeful thought.” It shows the path from A to B. His studies of high hope people suggest that:
…waypower capabilities are based, in part, on a previous history of successfully finding one or more avenues to one’s goals…. As we know, life places barriers in our paths. In such instances, waypower thinking also embodies the general motto, “If you can’t do it one way, do it another way.”
So action is a part of waypower as well. Snyder contends that if the person does not have both the willpower and waypower for goals, there cannot be high hope. Or as I always used to tell my teacher education students, “to fail to plan is to plan to fail.” And as one of you shared in the survey, “Hope is great. But hope without action is useless.”
The fourth attribute of hope is the relational aspect of hope – or as Farran terms it, Hopes Heart.
As Unitarian Universalists, we constantly lift up our interdependence with others. Similarly, most of us realize that our goals and dreams can not be realized in isolation of others. Our hopes are dependent on and related to the hopes of others. David Halpin explores the relational aspect of Hope in his article entitled, “Hope, Utopianism, and Educational Renewal.” He states:
Being hopeful, consequently, encourages outgoingness as well as a fundamental openness towards one’s environment including, crucially, the people in it. This last element of the equation cannot be stressed enough. For hope is as much a relational construct as an emotional or a cognitive possession of individuals. The social psychologist, Lionel Tiger, argues in similar vein, stating that hope is an “essential vitamin for social processes. If everybody awoke each day to announce ‘It’s hopeless’, there would soon be (he says) no plausible tomorrow and no continuous social arrangements”. The existentialist philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, concurs, arguing that hope “is only possible at the level of the us . . . and does not exist on the level of the solitary ego”.
On the survey that many of you completed, most of you were much more hopeful about our nation than the world or the planet. And 14 of 20 comments alluded to the new leadership in government. But you weren’t saying that Obama himself would make the change. You obviously have heard him time and time again point back to the American people and the changes we will all need to make. For example, on the MLK holiday which many spent in service projects, he was quoted as saying:
Given the crisis that we're in and the hardships that so many people are going through, we can't allow any idle hands," Mr. Obama said, taking a break from painting a dormitory at Sasha Bruce House, a shelter for homeless teens. "Everybody's got to be involved. Everybody's going to have to pitch in, and I think the American people are ready for that.
Here are three of the comments on the surveys that indicate that we are ready to be in relationship with others as we hope and work for a better future.
The incoming President brings an inspiring message that appears to be motivating many people to be involved in change for the better.
I think Obama, while he may not be the “change”, will be a catalyst for more good.
I’m hopeful and somewhat optimistic that our electing Obama is a signal that more of us are trying to work from our love rather than our fear. Perhaps we are willing to take a broader perspective about what is good for ALL of us.
The relational aspect of hope – or hope’s heart – helps us also to recognize that hope and the resulting efforts of people who hope, runs through generations. Time and time again this week we were reminded of those who had struggled for a more just, free, and secure world and who passed the hope for that land “where justice rolls down like waters” on to us.
Some of those folks are still living of course. In addition to seeing folks like Representative John Lewis and Rev. Joseph Lowery at the inauguration ceremonies, I was thrilled to see Pete Seeger singing at the pre-inauguration concert held at the Lincoln Memorial. As you may know, Pete is a Unitarian Universalist. His songs have always lifted up hope for the poor, the workers, and the oppressed. During the McCarthy era, he was among those blacklisted and branded as a communist and anti-American. He continued to sing where he could, though. And later he was able to play a meaningful role in the Civil Rights movement. Pete changed the words to the old hymn – “I will overcome” by Rev. Charles Tindley to “We shall overcome” and taught it to activists at the Highlander Folk School, who went forth and taught it to others in the South. Of course, the song eventually became the theme of the Civil Rights Movement and spoke of the hope that many African Americans held in their hearts for a better day. It thrilled me to see this 89 year old man who had been branded as un-American in our earlier history, stand before that sea of faces including our new first family and leading them in singing:
This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island. From the red wood forests, to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.
Another reminder of the hope of earlier generations being passed on was shared with me this day after the inauguration when I had breakfast with a friend. This friend is an African American man who grew up here in the South in the 40’s and 50’s. I asked him if he gathered with others to watch the inauguration. He told me he decided to watch from home rather than join the crowds. Yet he was surrounded by a greater crowd. He gathered from different places around his home pictures of his parents and his grandparents – no longer living in the flesh. And he set these pictures up around him and watched Barack Obama take that oath of office. Then he picked up each picture and gave them all a thank you kiss. These good folks did not live to see this day, but they worked for it and hoped for it. And they passed that hope down to their children and grandchildren. And now my friend has passed hope on to his children and grandchildren and to his students – for we still have much to do for a more perfect union – and a more perfect world. For them, hope lives on.
If hope is alive, it does have its pain, its soul, its mind and its heart – all attributes of hope, that which encourages and sustains us. Is hope alive for you today? Do you have hopes today for our community, our nation, our world, our planet, your own lives? Do you have hopes for our wonderful little congregation here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. I hope so.
President Barack Obama closed his inauguration address with words about hope. And I can find no better words than his to close this sermon. He said:
With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
May it be so!